Heaven and Its Teenage Riot

Mary Biddinger

One woman smelled like honey, the other like Funyuns.I hadn't started carrying a purse yet, kept a check safein my sports bra. When house lights turned off I was notcentered. But nobody waits for a shadow to catch up.One woman took measurements, the other extractedfeathers from a gallon bag. What exactly was I learningaside from how to lean? My unremarkable thighsclanged together like volumes of a fresh encyclopedia.I wondered how many people had touched the clipboard.Back then people still actively licked their fingers.I walked everywhere, considered a coat demeaning.My street had more boards than windows, a stray rooster.Thinking about the moon brought collective nausea.It was 1990 and we spent zero time pondering the future.People always asked if I had a fever. I tested poorly.When the flood lights powered on it felt like spit falling.Basically it was a life with very little context beyondyes or no. They assigned me a leotard thinner than a mask.The only taboo was braids so loose they resembled grain.A phone was a thing with square buttons, a wall mount.The "hangout" a bald fire pit by warehouse tracks.Getting high meant becoming happy, and I aspired to it.

Feature Date


Selected By

Share This Poem

Print This Poem

Mary Biddinger is the author of six full-length collections of poetry, most recently Partial Genius: Prose Poems. She teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Akron, and edits the Akron Series in Poetry for the University of Akron Press. Poems and flash fiction have recently appeared in The Adroit Journal, The Laurel Review, On the Seawall, Poetry, Southern Indiana Review, and Waxwing, among others. Biddinger has been the recipient of three Individual Excellence Awards from the Ohio Arts Council, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and the 2019 Mid-Career Cleveland Arts Prize in literature. Her current project is a flash fiction manuscript about the adventures of two graduate school roommates in late 1990s Chicago. Her seventh full-length collection of poems, Department of Elegy, will be published by Black Lawrence Press in early 2022.

Black-and-white photographic portrait of Emily Wilson

New York, New York

Part post-punk ghost story, part Gen-X pastoral, Mary Biddinger’s poetry collection Department of Elegy conjures dim nightclubs, churning lakes, and vacant Midwestern lots, meditating on moments of lost connection. With the afterlife looming like fringe around the edges of this book, Biddinger constructs a view of heaven as strange as the world left behind. These poems escort us from forest to dance floor, bathtub to breakwater, memory into present.

"In Department of Elegy, Mary Biddinger examines the hot pink ignorance of youth and the equally vulnerable present. These thrillingly nimble, funny poems empathize with hunger and long for longing."
—Jennifer L. Knox

"Mary Biddinger’s seventh poetry collection guides readers across the dangerous terrain between memory and chaos with confidence, bravado, and—ultimately—hard-won expertise. The speakers’ words themselves sustain a series of exquisite and delicate tensions between utterance and erasure, between form and improvisation, anchored throughout by a series of 'Book' poems ('Book of Hard Passes,' 'Book of the Sea,' 'Book of Misdeeds,' 'Book of Transgressions,' 'Book of Disclosures,' 'Book of Mild Regrets'). The emotional undercurrent of this collection samples such a wide range of life and existence that we are left wondering where time goes and why so quickly, from the ritualistic taste of the insides of gloves, to the realization that once '…your friends have perished under tragic circumstances / eventually they become like beloved characters from books.'"
—Erica Bernheim

Poetry Daily Depends on You

With your support, we make reading the best contemporary poetry a treasured daily experience. Consider a contribution today.